Trypophobia, although technically translated as “piercing phobia,” is actually more than a phobia.is actually more than a phobia (fear), it is a rejection or a feeling of disgust and repulsion towards compact and grouped geometric figures.
In this article we will know what exactly is trypophobia, whether or not it becomes a specific phobia (anxiety disorder) and what are its causes. We will also talk about an experiment that was carried out in relation to this subject, and about the advantages of some phobias like this one at an evolutionary level.
- Recommended article: “The 20 strangest phobias of human beings”.
Trypophobia: what is it?
The term trypophobia comes from the Greek “trypo”, which means stitch or perforation. Trypophobia is the feeling of repulsion and rejection towards patterns of compact geometric shapes.
This characteristic feeling of repulsion appears especially with holes and holes together, as well as with very small holes.as well as with very small holes and very small rectangles.
In fact, what we mentioned at the beginning (disgust instead of fear in trypophobia) has been demonstrated in a research conducted by the researcher Stella Lourenco, carried out at Emory University (Atlanta, USA). In this research, it was proven how this “fear” or “rejection” of small group patterns of holes was driven by disgust rather than fear.
Thus, trypophobia is triggered when we observe or touch this pattern of tiny holes grouped together. But where can we encounter these tiny holes?
Tiny holes in…
This grouping of compact and small geometric figures, i.e. the “phobic object” of trypophobia, can appear in different elements, either in the environment, in nature, in other people…
Some examples of these stimuli are found in: nature (e.g. lotus flowers, bee panels, bubbles, some animals, stones, etc.), people (wounds, lumps as a result of infectious skin diseases such as leprosy, smallpox or measles), fiction (movies, special effects), art (drawings, photographs, etc.), food (e.g. cheese, a head of garlic, etc.) and even objects (e.g. the shower drain).
As such, the main symptom of trypophobia is this feeling of rejection and repulsion towards small holes that remain very close together.. Other symptoms of trypophobia are: fear, anxiety, disgust, disgust, etc., always associated with the same stimulus (grouping of small and compact geometric figures, usually holes).
We know that specific phobias, classified as such in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders) involve discomfort in the sufferer, as well as some impairment or interference in their daily life (these are diagnostic criteria). However, in common parlance and in the case of trypophobia, this is considered a fairly common disorder, which is not considered a mental disorder, but rather a very common condition in the population.
That is, many people suffer from trypophobia and this does not cause a great deterioration in their lives; simply, when they see many holes together, they feel disgust or rejection.
In extreme cases of trypophobia, however, we could speak of an intense and irrational fear of this stimulus; on the other hand, the degree of interference in life will vary, depending on exposure to such stimuli (most people are not particularly exposed to these stimuli in their daily lives).
The causes of trypophobia are related to an ancestral and evolutionary mechanism towards stimuli that can be toxic or harmful to the individual. These stimuli usually cause disgust (e.g. unpleasant odor, rotten food, garbage, etc.).
That is to say, trypophobia is related to a protection mechanism against stimuli that cause disgust; it is not very well known why, the fact of seeing many small holes together (or other geometric shapes) awakens this type of sensation.
At the evolutionary and survival level, it is logical that our ancestors felt rejection towards stimuli that caused them disgust; it is therefore a survival mechanism, to avoid infection or death.
It could be said, then, that in a way we have “inherited” this phobia, like many other phobias related to stimuli that are unpleasant to the senses, which also arouse a feeling of disgust.
The evolutionary advantage of phobias
Thus, the main hypothesis regarding the cause of trypophobia is related to an evolutionary advantage in avoiding or rejecting stimuli that cause us to feel disgust. The evolutionary function of the sensation of dislike or displeasure towards a stimulus prevents us from eating rotten or expired food, for example.
There are many other evolutionarily inherited phobias; most of them, however, serve the role of fear to avoid predators, for example. Thus, phobias can produce mainly two types of evolutionarily advantageous responses: fear and disgust (in the case of trypophobia). (in the case of trypophobia).
Research on fear and disgust
These two responses (fear and disgust) have been increasingly studied and it has been found that, at the physiological level, they activate two different systems (fear activates the sympathetic nervous system and disgust activates the parasympathetic nervous system).
In fact, the latter was verified by an experiment conducted by Ayzenberg, Hickey and Lourenco in 2018. The results of this research showed how images of dangerous animals (that cause fear) produce an increase of the pupil, while images of small holes together produce a decrease of the pupil. In other words, different psychophysiological systems are activated.
It is worth mentioning that the study volunteers had not reported suffering from trypophobia. The researchers concluded that this suggested that trypophobia is based on a very primitive visual mechanism behind the aversion to small, compact holes.
Treatment of trypophobia
Recall that we have spoken of trypophobia not so much as a mental disorder (in the case of specific phobias, an anxiety disorder), but rather a very common response among people, and a very primitive ancestral mechanism to stimuli that cause disgust.
So, rather than talking about a treatment for trypophobia, we can talk about small solutions to combat it.
One proposal we make is the habituation technique.This technique consists in habituating ourselves to the feared (or, in this case, repulsive) stimulus. It is as simple as getting used to look for many minutes at objects, animals or things with small agglutinated dots.
After a while, we will get used to it and it will not cause us the same initial feeling of disgust. However, if many hours pass between stimulus and stimulus, it is likely that the habituation effect will disappear, and we will return to the initial trypophobia.
The best thing to do, then, is to accept that these small stimuli (holes and shapes) will always cause us “repulsion”, and that this does not have to have a negative impact on our daily life.